submitted by Cathy Pope, CAPS, Thomas G. Wells Construction, www.tgw-construction.com
I have several certifications, but the one I get asked about most often is CAPS – Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. I’m always happy to explain.
In the 20 or so years that I’ve been in this business, I’ve seen the terminology change. So it was no real surprise to see that the term “Universal Design” has been replaced by the much more descriptive term, “Aging-in-Place.”
Both refer to an approach to building and remodeling that makes accessibility and ease-of-use for those with diminished physical capabilities first and foremost.
The CAPS program is run by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and it consists of three required courses, plus a continuing education requirement that must be completed every three years.
There is a course that focuses on the best ways to discuss aging and accessibility issues with potential clients. There is a rather generic course on “business management for construction professionals.”
But the real eye-opener is the one called “Design/Build Solutions for Aging and Accessibility.” You may think, “Aging-in-place, what’s the big deal?
Add a ramp next to the outside steps, maybe an electric lift up the stairs, and a few widened doorways capable of accommodating a wheelchair.” I certainly thought that way. But I learned that there is so much more, so very much more.
On the first day of class, the instructor made us wear glasses with lenses that had been smeared with Vaseline, insert earplugs, and worst of all, hold a tennis ball in each of our hands while a sock was put over each one. That meant that your fingers couldn’t grasp anything.
We were then instructed to try to do things, like pouring a mug of coffee, using the bathroom, exiting and re-entering the building, and other typical daily activities. What a revelation!
There is no better way to drive home the utility of levers in place of round knobs when it comes to opening a door. To say nothing of having a numerical keypad in place of a key-operable door lock.
You couldn’t even tell when your coffee mug was full because of the impaired vision.
And you couldn’t tell when you tried to put your coffee mug down whether it was on the counter or not because the countertop was dark. With blurred vision, it is hard to distinguish less-than-sharp color contrasts.
I’m going to leave aside the cascading effects: a mug of coffee spills and someone falls because they slip in the coffee on the floor. In the course, we learned how important contrast is when it comes to the color of countertops, floors, and other items. And we learned how distinct contrast can pose a problem.
For example, in some assisted living facilities there are what unimpaired people would consider lovely carpets with light centers and dark bands. But if you watch an older, vision-impaired person trying to navigate across the room, you’ll see some of them hesitate at that dark border because, to them, it is not clear whether it represents a step down or not.
And they don’t want to fall.
My point is that the considerations for truly effective aging-in-place remodeling and construction are not obvious. Whomever you hire, you need to make sure that they have someone on staff with the CAPS certification.